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Jewel-encrusted animal-theme pins by Van Cleef & Arpels go on show in Paris

An apocalyptic crash of thunder, turbulent waves rolling across the screens and silhouetted in the darkness above the audience is a symbolic ark. It sets the scene for an enchanting exhibition in Paris by Van Cleef Arpels that is a feat of biblical proportions.

Animals are not new in the savoir-faire of France’s great jewellery houses, but there are no threatening snakes or panthers in this new collection. Van Cleef Arpels has gathered together all the animal kingdom in gem-encrusted pairs of slender giraffes, mischievous monkeys, playful geese and intertwining zebras, in all 60 animal couples that in the Old Testament story would have been saved from the great flood by Noah’s ark.

Escorted on board by the legendary Unicorn, Pegasus and Phoenix, these delightful and exquisitely crafted animals are all pins, a long forgotten accessory that is making a big comeback in fashion circles.

Some of the pins are worn as pairs, such as the baguette-cut diamond koalas and monkeys, and some worn singly featuring a couple of lapis lazuli, turquoise and onyx parakeets or a pair of diamond and onyx raccoons balanced on spessartite garnet and pink tourmaline cabochons.

“I wasn’t so much inspired by the myth but how the story has been represented in art, in particular Jan Brueghel the Elder’s The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark, and also by toy animals,” says Nicolas Bos, the president and creative director of the jewellery house. “I was interested in exploring new ways of representing these animals,” he says, and this he has achieved by using many different techniques, cuts of gems and even wood to create the pins.

There are encrusted gold animals; the use of hard stone lapis lazuli and malachite for a pair of elephants that are reminiscent of a child’s toys; while the Phoenix and Pegasus are created using the house’s signature “mystery setting” for rubies.

Bos regards jewellery as an art form, and this is the first time that a new collection in the usually secretive world of high jewellery has been exhibited publicly, and a stone’s throw from the Place Vendome store.

Robert Wilson, the celebrated theatre director and stage designer, designed the exhibition. Highlighting the point that jewels are all about light, he began with the concept of light and darkness and then sound, creating the sensory experience of the flood to showcase this delightful new collection.

L’Arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark) by Van Cleef Arpels at Hotel D’Evreux, 19 Place Vendome, 75001 Paris, until September 26. Free admission. www.vancleefarpels.com